Govinda dasi :
We had met Swamiji in San Francisco, and only a few days before Swamiji left for New York, Gaurasundara, my husband, and I decided we desperately wanted to go there with him. After all, we had left college in November in search of a spiritual teacher and we met Swamiji in December or early January of 1967, and now only a couple of months later he was leaving for New York City. We had no other life; he was our life.
The two months in San Francisco, reading his Srimad Bhagavatam, attending his lectures daily and painting pictures for him had given us a taste of bhakti. We had no other goal than to follow him. Like the Pied Piper we wanted to follow along. So we approached him at his San Francisco apartment and asked if we could come to New York. His smile brightened as he saw our sincerity of purpose and he nodded, saying: ‘Why not?’
So, Gaurasundara and I began searching for a way from San Francisco to New York. Since we had very little money, we hoped to get a ride. Gaurasundara went out to the local hip shops to put up signs, advertising for a ride back East, and while he was out he met some San Francisco hippies who were driving straight to New York. They were leaving in about an hour. Gaurasundara rushed home, we packed our few belongings and we were ready to go almost immediately.
About two days before Swamiji’s departure from San Francisco we headed out to New York; we figured Krsna had arranged the whole thing. It took us 4 days driving day and night, taking turns driving, to reach the East Coast, which meant we could arrive only two days after Swamiji’s flight from San Francisco landing. After a few minor harrowing adventures on the way, we arrived safely in New York in very early morning of March of 1967. When we arrived, it was around 6:30 or 7 in the morning, and we opened the door to 26, 2nd Avenue and fell to our knees in obeisances and gratitude.
The scene was unforgettable: Swamiji was sitting on a raised dais, chanting and he was surrounded by a small group of devotees, singing the beautiful morning tune. Billows of incense filled the air and the aura of heavyliness was intoxicating. Drones of the vina hummed lovely and Swamiji himself expertly played the mrdanga. The vina player, who had a sikha that was like a long curl in the back of his head, wore robes. Other devotees also were dressed in dhotis and shawls, and the scene was like none either of us had witnessed.
I was amazed: this was a different world from San Francisco. It was serene, intellectual and focused, nothing like the wild party mood of San Francisco. It was like a glimpse of Vaikuntha. Swamiji smiled and acknowledged our arrival, and continued chanting. After the lecture he let everyone know that we were devotees and artists who had come from San Francisco.
The New York devotees welcomed us and we began to live amongst them just like a family. It was perhaps one of the sweetest times of my life. I remember we were very poor, yet we were very rich. Swamiji was our wealth, our joy and our everything. The devotees in New York had this mood and everything evolved around Swamiji. In San Francisco, Swamiji was in his apartment and guests visited by appointment and most people were new. The devotees in New York, on the other hand, had been there much longer and it was clearly Swamiji’s home. We practically lived all together like a family: Swamiji was the head and we were the children. We spent the days together; we had prasadam in his apartment. He was with us all the time. We would sit around in his room, in the evening talking all of us together like a family.
We would all sit in his room, doing painting during the day. For the first couple of nights, Gaurasundara and I slept on the concrete floor of the temple room, and in other areas of that floor slept Gargamuni, Brahmananda, and several other devotees as well. It was not very comfortable. There were rats that prowled the area at night, sometimes awaking devotees.
One night Gargamuni woke up because a rat got into his hair and the next day devotees were teasing him because his hair was long, down to his shoulders, so the rats liked it. Gargamuni was Brahmananda’s little brother, he was very young and liked having his long dark hair parted in the middle and Swamiji would say: ‘Like Lord Caitanya’. So Gargamuni would defend his long locks by saying that his hair was like Lord Caitanya’s.
These were the family moods that permeated our early days in New York until we found a small apartment, we then moved over to Satsvarupa’s apartment. There, Gaurasundara and I slept on a blanket on the floor in the kitchen, at a tiny front room, and Satsvarupa camped out on the floor in the next room and Raya Rama in another room.
I recall hearing the sounds of a type writer in the wee early morning hours, 2:30 or 3 AM and peaked in to see Satsvarupa sitting on the floor, hunched over a type writer, transcribing Swamiji’s Srimad Bhagavatam tapes. I was impressed. These devotees were unlike any I had ever seen before. They were totally dedicated to Swamiji and had no other life. This was a really different experience than San Francisco.
In Satsvarupa’s apartment I slept on a blanket on the floor in the kitchen and the bed bugs were a problem. I would wake up in the morning with red bites all over my cheeks. I tried turn in the other direction with my feet to the wall but then my feet would be covered with red bites. Swamiji asked us how we were doing and seeing the red marks on my face, I explained to him that some bugs were biting me. He laughed and said, pointing to his window: ‘Yes, they also come here but I stay very still and when they think I am asleep they come, then I catch them and chant to them, and then put them out my window. By the breathing they know just when a man is sleeping but I can trick them.’ His eyes sparkled as he told of how he tricked the little bed bugs by pretending to be asleep.
So that night I tried tricking them but I fell asleep and got bitten as usual and the next night, and again and again and again to no avail. I couldn’t catch them. A few days later I told Swamiji: ‘I’ve tried every night to catch them but I can’t catch them. I breathe softly and try to pretend that I am asleep but they are too clever. They don’t come and bite until I am really asleep. I don’t know how you do this.’ Swamiji laughed and wagged his head from side to side, saying: ‘Yes, you have to be very expert’.
Thank you, Srila Prabhupada for showing me your compassion even for bed bugs. You cared even for these living entities who came to you only for biting and sucking blood, and you gave them your mercy as surely as those who came for serving. Thank you for showing us how to live, how to love all creatures and how to give the benediction of the Holy Name.